Tuesday, April 5, 2016

'Fire and Quail from the Lord' (Numbers 10-11).

God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants, who multiplied but became enslaved in Egypt. God called Moses to lead them out of Egypt and God delivered Israel with ‘His mighty acts of judgment’. The Lord parted the Red Sea and Israel walked through on dry ground while Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the sea. The Lord led Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire and miraculously provided ‘manna and quail’ and ‘water from a rock’ despite their grumbling. They came to Mt. Sinai where the Lord established His covenant with Israel and gave them the 10 commandments. Yet, while Moses was with God on the mountain the Israelites made a golden calf as an idol. Moses went down the mountain smashed the idol, then the next day Moses went back up Mt. Sinai to intercede on behalf of the Israelites. The Lord said He would give the Israelites their homeland but he wouldn’t go with them. But Moses pleaded with the Lord and the Lord responded by saying, “My presence will go with you.” Moses wanted to see the ‘glory of God’ so the Lord caused His goodness to pass by Moses (Exodus 34:19). Moses asked the Lord to forgive Israel’s sins even though they were a ‘stiff-necked’ people (34:1-9). The Lord confirmed the covenant with Moses and Israel and gave Moses the ‘tablets of the covenant’ (34:10-28). When Moses came down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments his face was radiant from speaking with the Lord (34:28–35). This brings us to the story of 'Fire and Quail from the Lord' which is coming from Numbers 10-11. Watch the story and read the comments below. 
In this story God is with Israel leading them as He had promised Moses (Exodus 33:14, 17). The cloud lifted and Israel set out in their tribal divisions from the Desert of Sinai at the Lord’s command through Moses. The tabernacle would be taken down and the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ would go before them with the pillar of cloud above. As they set out Moses would call upon the Lord to scatter His enemies. When the cloud settled they would set up the tabernacle again and Moses would call on the Lord to return to the countless thousands of Israel. God was present with the Israelites but their journey was still difficult. Almost immediately the Israelites started complaining about their hardships (11:1). The Lord heard their complaining and He sent fire to consume the outskirts of the camp. So the people cried out to Moses who interceded for Israel and the fire died down (11:1–3).  The place was called Taberah (‘burning’ 11:3) and the story reminds us that God is a consuming fire (Exodus 24, Hebrews 12).

However, God’s judgment really didn’t change this for the discontent Israelites (11:4–15). Almost immediately the Israelites started craving other foods and wailing for meat. They even claimed that in Egypt they had free fish with cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (11:5). Yet, in the wilderness day after day all they ate was ‘manna’. So they craved other foods and they wailed for meat to eat. They even claimed they were better off in Egypt which provoked the Lord’s anger. Then Moses himself begins to complain about having to carry in his arms this discontent people like a nurse carries an infant. If this is how the Lord was going to treat him then Moses wanted to die. Moses says that he would rather die than see his own ruin.

God became very angry and Moses was troubled. Moses starts his calling as being a burden that he cannot carry. Now we find Moses himself complaining about having to see his own ruin (11:11-15). So why after all that Moses had been through do we now find him complaining? Is it because the Israelites are not responding? Perhaps he was overwhelmed because the people weren’t responding to him. Perhaps Moses felt like he was having no real influence on the Israelites. Yet, Israel has done this before. So why is Moses so troubled now? Is it because Israel is falling into the same old sinful patterns again and again and Moses is simply worn down. Surely when you try to encourage people to trust God and they don’t listen and they do the same things again and again it’s discouraging. When this happens again and again you can feel like you’re wasting your time. But Moses himself and tried God’s patience several times so shouldn’t Moses have been more patient with the Israelites? But, now Moses is overwhelmed and troubled to the point that he seems tired of interceding for Israel.

So what is it that is now so troubling for Moses? In this incident we find the Israelites being provoked by the ‘Rabble’ that came out of Egypt with them so that they were reminiscing about how good the food was back in Egypt. They weren’t responding to Moses and they were falling into the same old sins, but now they claim they were actually better off before they started following Moses. Moses hears the Israelites claiming that following Moses had actually made their lives worse. Now Moses is filled with second thoughts and self-doubt to the point that he can’t see any way that he can accomplish his mission. Moses sees his work as futile and he feels like a failure. Moses seems to have forgotten about what God has done and about what God has promised. God is no longer in the picture and all Moses can see is his own inevitable failure.  If this is how it’s going to be then Moses would rather die than face his own ruin. But God, in His grace, has an answer for Moses.

What is God’s solution to Moses having to carry a discontent people to their ‘promised land?  God did not expect or intend for Moses to carry this burden alone. The Lord told Moses to gather seventy elders and the Lord would anoint them with His Spirit in order to help Moses (See Ex. 18:13–26, Num. 11:24–30).  The Lord took of the Spirit that was on Moses and put the Spirit on the elders to help Moses carry the Israelites to their ‘promised land’.  Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, stayed behind and the Spirit came upon them and they prophesied in the camp. When Moses and Joshua heard this Joshua was jealous for Moses and wanted Moses to stop them. But, Moses’ desire was that the Lord would put his Spirit on all of God’s people!  In His own time, the Lord would do what Moses desired. Joel would prophesy of the day when God would empower all His people with His Spirit to do God’s work (Joel 2:28-29). In time, Joel’s prophesy would be realized when God would fulfil this promise in the ‘New Covenant’ in Christ by pouring out His Spirit on all God’s people (Acts 2:2-4, 17).

Then Moses was to prepare the people and God would provide enough meat for them. God would provide meat but not just for one or two days, or for five, ten or even twenty days. The Lord would provide meat for a whole month until it came out their nostrils and they hated it. Moses doubted that the Lord could provide enough meat to satisfy the six hundred thousand Israelite men. In Moses’ thinking all the fish in the sea wouldn’t be enough for them. But the Lord told Moses that he would see God’s word come true. Did Moses doubt that God could provide enough meat for a month or did Moses doubt that God could provide enough meat to satisfy the cravings of this group of discontents? The Lord sent a wind that brought quail all around the camp a day’s walk in every direction. The Israelites gathered the quail all that day and the next and they had so much meat that they actually got sick of it. So the Lord put the lie to the claim that they were better off in Egypt. Moreover the Lord provided enough meat for a month and He satisfied their cravings for meat by giving them so much that they became thoroughly sick of it. So the people ate meat but some of them died from a plague sent by the Lord and the place was called Kibroth Hattaavah (‘graves of craving’; 11:34).

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